It’s the middle of June, and that can only mean one thing (actually that could mean anything, but for a blog about food in the Netherlands, it means something pretty special)…it’s time for Hollandse Nieuwe. Mmm, Hollandse Nieuwe.
This delicacy of the Atlantic is known as herring to the uninitiated, and more specifically, Hollandse Nieuwe refers to the first catch of the season. The resemblance to the herring of my childhood is negligible, not that I have a really clear picture of it in my mind anymore. I just remember an unsightly gray mass always present at family gatherings next to the pickles and olives, a pile of pickled fish from a jar I consciously avoided on my way to the chips and seven-layer taco dip. Dutch herring goes through some sort of salt curing process and arrives to the consumer nicely filleted and in a fairly fresh state. The season only lasts about six weeks, but they freeze a lot of the stock to sell throughout the rest of the year. I missed the season last year, because I was back in the States for eight weeks. No way was I going to miss it again this summer. While most people in the line ordered it as a snack, complete with the requisite chopped onions, I got mine nicely packaged up for dinner that night. Look at this adorable bag:
If you take a look at the first picture from this newspaper article, you can see the “traditional” way Dutch people eat herring—all in one go—but I have never seen it served that way here in Amsterdam. The fishmonger usually cuts it up nicely for you so you can enjoy each little piece while sitting on a bench watching the bicycles go by. That’s what the tourists usually do, anyway. While some people may not think that pieces of herring with onions sounds good, it is actually pretty amazing. The bite of the onions offers a nice contrast to the fatty fish. Man, just writing this is making me want to go order one.
Apparently it is a good year for the little fish. The ones I bought were huge! I bought two of the little suckers for dinner, but we ended up only eating one and saving the other one for our appetizer (yeah, like we usually have appetizers before dinner) the next night. It’s one of those fresh foods I wish I could somehow bottle up and send to people so they could know just how good it is. Since that’s not possible, you should all come visit me in the next few weeks before the season ends.